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Faxed

The Rise and Fall of the Fax Machine

Jonathan Coopersmith

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The intriguing story of the rise and fall—and unexpected persistence—of the fax machine illustrates the close link between technology and culture.

Co-Winner of the Hagley Prize in Business History of the Business History Conference

Faxed is the first history of the facsimile machine—the most famous recent example of a tool made obsolete by relentless technological innovation. Jonathan Coopersmith recounts the multigenerational, multinational history of the device from its origins to its workplace glory days, in the process revealing how it helped create the accelerated communications…

The intriguing story of the rise and fall—and unexpected persistence—of the fax machine illustrates the close link between technology and culture.

Co-Winner of the Hagley Prize in Business History of the Business History Conference

Faxed is the first history of the facsimile machine—the most famous recent example of a tool made obsolete by relentless technological innovation. Jonathan Coopersmith recounts the multigenerational, multinational history of the device from its origins to its workplace glory days, in the process revealing how it helped create the accelerated communications, information flow, and vibrant visual culture that characterize our contemporary world.

Most people assume that the fax machine originated in the computer and electronics revolution of the late twentieth century, but it was actually invented in 1843. Almost 150 years passed between the fax’s invention in England and its widespread adoption in tech-savvy Japan, where it still enjoys a surprising popularity. Over and over again, faxing’s promise to deliver messages instantaneously paled before easier, less expensive modes of communication: first telegraphy, then radio and television, and finally digitalization in the form of email, the World Wide Web, and cell phones. By 2010, faxing had largely disappeared, having fallen victim to the same technological and economic processes that had created it.

Based on archival research and interviews spanning two centuries and three continents, Coopersmith’s book recovers the lost history of a once-ubiquitous technology. Written in accessible language that should appeal to engineers and policymakers as well as historians, Faxed explores themes of technology push and market pull, user-based innovation, and "blackboxing" (the packaging of complex skills and technologies into packages designed for novices) while revealing the inventions inspired by the fax, how the demand for fax machines eventually caught up with their availability, and why subsequent shifts in user preferences rendered them mostly passé.

Reviews

Reviews

Coopersmith provides an illuminating, meticulously researched and often fascinating account.

Archival research and interviews were used to reveal this lost history, while a tone designed to entertain as well as inform lends to a survey highly recommended for any interested in technological advancement and business history.

Coopersmith tells his story clearly with ample attention both to technical detail and wider context, and notably with an eye to the comparative evolution of fax in different national contexts. It is highly recommended to readers.

This book should be part of any history of technology collection. It also provides an interesting read for general audiences.

[The] breadth of coverage alone makes Faxed an important contribution to the history of communications technologies, and provides a strong foundation for further work that digs deeper into particular time period, devices, or markets.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
320
ISBN
9781421421230
Illustration Description
16 halftones, 2 line drawings
Table of Contents

Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction
1. First Patent to First World War, 1843–1918
2. First Markets, 1918–1939
3. Facsimile, 1939–1965
4. The Sleeping Giant Stirs, 1965–1980
5. The Giant Awakes, 1980–1995
6

Preface
Abbreviations
Introduction
1. First Patent to First World War, 1843–1918
2. First Markets, 1918–1939
3. Facsimile, 1939–1965
4. The Sleeping Giant Stirs, 1965–1980
5. The Giant Awakes, 1980–1995
6. The Fax and the Computer
Conclusion
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Jonathan Coopersmith
Featured Contributor

Jonathan Coopersmith

Jonathan Coopersmith is a professor of history at Texas A&M University. He is the author of The Electrification of Russia, 1880–1926 and the history of technology blog Infinity, Limited.